Author Interview: Susan Furber

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

I loved creating stories as a child and acting them out with my dolls. My mother was a great believer in giving me time to play by myself and use my imagination, and I think it is from this that I became a writer. By nine I was an avid reader, and I remember even then being very confident that one day I would write books. I started to write stories and attempts at novels from the age of twelve, finishing my first novel at the age of sixteen.

 Are there any books or authors that inspired you to become a writer?

As a girl, I was inspired by L.M. Montgomery and Louisa May Alcott, and their heroines, Jo March and Anne Shirley, who were also avid readers and wanted to be writers. When I was nineteen, I read Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, and Edna O’Brien, and these three authors changed not only the way I wrote but opened my eyes to what I could write about. I realised I didn’t have to create grand romantic stories that I knew little about; instead, I could write character-centric novels that dealt with trauma and Catholicism. 

Does writing energize or exhaust you? Or both?

When I get into the rhythm of writing and am disciplined in writing every day, I find it exhilarating and am absorbed by the work. However, getting started when I’ve been out of practice is tricky, and it can be tiring and demoralising. After finishing a book, I feel immensely happy to have written something I’m proud of, but I’m also sad to say goodbye to the characters as well as drained from the mental and emotional exhaustion. It’s a petite mort

How do you celebrate when you finish your book?

I drink champagne.

How long did it take you to write this book?

I wrote the first draft of The Essence of an Hour when I was nineteen. I was sent home from university due to having a bad case of mono (or glandular fever as it’s known in the UK), and while recovering in bed, I started what would become Essence. I had been thinking of writing a novel about a toxic female friendship and how the two young women’s sexual coming-of-age experiences mirrored each other. Then while sick, I thought of the first line and started to understand the main character of Lillie and her unique speech pattern.

I finished the first draft in a month. I looked at the book on and off for years, rewriting scenes, thinking through characters in more depth – in particular, the character of Lara – but it wasn’t until I was twenty-six that I began a full rewrite, starting from the first sentence and finding my way through the story again. It took seven months to rewrite and a few more months to edit the new version. It was accepted for publication when I was twenty-eight and published just after I turned twenty-nine, almost ten years from the writing of the first draft.

If you’re planning a sequel, can you share a tiny bit about your plans for it?

We Were Very Merry continues Lillie’s story and looks at the ten-year period between the events of The Essence of an Hour and Lillie’s retrospective narration. In Essence, she alludes to her failing marriage, but few details are given, and readers never learn her husband’s name. Now, Lillie tells of her post-war marriage to a brilliant young academic named John, her life in Oxford and Paris with him, her struggles with the idea of motherhood, and her continued strained friendship with Lara. It publishes for 25 May 2023 by Valley Press.

Name an underappreciated novel that you love.

I’m sorry, but I can’t pick just one. My top five: The Group by Mary McCarthy, Quartet in Autumn by Barbara Pym, anything by Elizabeth Jane Howard, Fear of Flying by Erica Jong, The Weekend by Peter Cameron.

What authors did you dislike at first but then develop an appreciation for?

I found Henry James dense and unsympathetic when I read him as a university student. However, as two of my favourite writers – James Baldwin and Alan Hollinghurst – were inspired by his style, I kept trying. I’ve come to appreciate and even love much of his work. He challenges me as a reader and as a writer.

What is a significant way your book has changed since the first draft?

I don’t think I understood when first writing the novel how it’s actually about the nature of repetitive trauma. It wasn’t until I started the new draft from scratch that I added the detail about Lillie’s mother’s death. It feels so organic to the story and so much part of what the novel is about – a young woman in denial about her past traumas – but this was not in the original drafts. There are, however, two things that never changed: the first and the last lines.

Would you and your main character get along?

Lillie and I are very similar – in many ways she is my literary doppelganger – but she is also colder, crueller, and more insular than I am. I think we would distrust and be quite envious of one another.  

Leave a Reply